By John Willacy
As sea kayakers we are all too aware that the weather can spoil our fun at times. Weekends are frustrated and plans spoilt. The weather often has the last laugh, leaving frustration and disappointment in its wake, while the world moves on.
As we enter the world of Performance Sea Paddling then this ‘weather-risk’ is increased a level. It’s not just a weekend that may be put on hold now; our plan for a whole season may stop dead.
Training and preparing for a challenge, a record or a major trip may take months and even years of work. A lot of effort can go into this, and looming above it all is the fact that the weather might negate everything – all at the last minute.
And rather paradoxically, the harder we are planning to paddle on the day the lesser ‘level’ of weather is needed to thwart those plans.
For some this can be too much. Just the thought of having all their work spoilt by a last minute awkward low-pressure system is enough to persuade them to take their efforts elsewhere.
So is there anything we can do?
Here are a few simple strategies that I use to try to stop the weather gods doing my head in…
Change Your Outlook
Rather than getting to September and thinking that I’ve thrown away all that training because of bad weather. I view it from the point of view that I’m going to train and prep, in order to be ready for any gaps in the weather – to be ready to pounce on an opportunity!
It’s a minor difference, almost semantics really. But it gives me more positive outlook in the end, to move on to the next one.
See It Differently
It was not time wasted. You learnt how to train and prepare for something. You sharpened your planning skills. You undertook recces and maybe ‘dry runs’. Next time when the weather is better, you will be on the top of your game after this dress rehearsal.
If you choose to take part in an activity in the great outdoors you are going to suffer from the weather at some time. Life’s a bitch, get over it. It was your choice. Realise that other people go through the same problems. It’s not just you. The weather is impartial.
Learn the Forecast
Every forecast service is different. Find the one(s) that work for you. Over time get to know just what they mean when they put certain figures out.
Learn how those figures relate to what you see is actually out there. How do those figures relate to your paddling, to your skill levels and your confidence?
Extend Your Abilities
You can’t stop or change the weather. However you can work around it to some extent. Raise your ‘No-Go’ level by familiarising yourself with paddling in poorer weather, over longer durations and distances. Keep your skills sharp and familiar. Be able to maintain them when fatigued.
Extend Your Window
You are probably looking for certain tides for your trip: neaps or springs. If you miss out on your planned date, then the tides will be back two weeks later. That’s how it works.
So set up a Plan B to return two weeks down the road if you need to. Fitness can be extended by two weeks without any real hassle. Yes, the extended tides may not be optimum, but better a slower-time than no-time. And yes, your partner/boss/kids etc. may be unimpressed, but they can have you for the other 50 weeks.
Extend your Day
If you can, try to schedule things for the days of longer daylight. If you need 12 hours for your paddle and try to do it in October, you are probably going to find that the combination of tides and daylight may only give you a one or two day window. Schedule things for June and you will find your window is much wider, possibly as long as the tides allow – 4-6 days maybe. The weather is less likely to ruin all of those days now.
Extend Your Reach
You may have planned, trained and prepared to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight. But if the weather is pants in the Solent it’s not going to happen. Life is like that. However if you have a fall-back plan for a different geographical area then you may well be able to salvage something. The Isle of Wight plan goes back in the drawer and the one for the sunny Isle of Bute one comes out instead…
Extend Your Season
I usually have 2 or 3 goals for the year:
- Progress Goal
- Main Goal
- Bonus/Fall-Back Goal
This not only gives an opportunity to maximise the year, but also to have multiple options if the weather spoils any plans. It generally goes like this:
This is early in the season. It is used as a ‘wake-up’ for body and mind after winter training. Importantly it also needs to be worthy enough that if you walk away with nothing else from the season then you can feel like you achieved something for all your work.
The Progress Goal is a good opportunity to try out kit, assess fitness and skills too. Plan it so there is enough time to recover ready for the Main Goal, and in order to make good any issues that were highlighted.
Typically end of March to May
As the name suggests it is the main challenge of the year. The progress goal was training for this one; in fact everything else is designed to contribute towards this one.
Typically May to end of August
This is an extra. If one or both of the other two worked out, then this is an ‘anything-else-is-a-bonus’ paddle. If the weather frustrated your previous effort(s) then this is another chance to salvage something from the year.
(If you complete your two other goals and then get your bonus one too, don’t expect top level performance now. You are going to feel a little end-of-season-fatigue in all likelihood. Just be grateful that’s where you are!)
Typically September to October
Note: As a (very) rough rule of thumb for multi-goal seasons. Following a hard paddle I expect it will take around 1 week for each hour paddled before I am recovered enough to paddle hard and long again.
So we can’t guarantee the weather, and it will still cause stress and disappointment at times. However with a little thought we can work around it and be pro-active to maximise our chances of getting the day we need to put all our hard work into action.